With the news of the day covering things like America's security agencies monitoring their citizens' phone calls and communications in various electronic forms, the Oscar-nominated Dror Moreh documentary The Gatekeepers couldn't see a better time for a video release. Moreh interviewed the last six former directors of the Shin Bet, the principal security organization of Israel. In the feature, they talk about the collecting of intelligence, some of the more notable events and operations during their tenure, and how this has impacted the country they have all served faithfully for over several decades.
One of the first things the film looks at is the judgment that these men have to occasionally exercise as part of their job. If they are performing an operation that involves the assassination of a terrorist, the decision must be made whether or not to take the subject out. The crazy thing is as we learn through the movie, the decision to kill the subject might spur on attacks regardless of the decision. Making the call may encourage other more peripheral followers to carry out attacks on Israel in the subject's name, not making the call may allow the subject to carry out a planned attack. Many of the directors are reluctant to provide a clear cut decision on whether or not an attack may be justified. Is it because such a justification cannot be made? Is it because (as one of the directors says almost dismissively) morality should be lost when it comes to a war on terrorism? Moreh does an effective job on leaving that decision to the viewer, intermittently asking questions of the interview subjects to help challenge a statement which could be considered confusing to help attempt to remove as many variables as possible.
The various directors' recollections on how the landscape changed and what it meant for Israel at home is also just as compelling to watch. They talk about the Western perception on various Prime Ministers, yet note that they all shared the same general stance on interaction with Palestinians. They talk about their various triumphs and failures, and when it comes to failures, they talk about the disappointment and sadness relevant directors experienced when suicide attacks on Israeli soil increased. And even some extremist Israeli attacks on Palestinians which were thwarted are given some time as well. As a personal note, that someone would consider such an attack, knowing that the ramifications would likely be some of their fellow citizens dying in the process of a higher goal, well, the mind baffles. Looking at how Israel changed through the years is also given attention. The examination on how Yitzhak Rabin's actions in the early-1990s and the signing of the Oslo Accords proves to be some interesting time in the film too. The reaction by Israelis to the Accords (both positive and negative) is given ample time, and the Shin Bet directors talk about the restrictions they experienced as a result of the accords. Rabin was assassinated in 1995 and the directors talk about their feelings on that time and how Israelis have seemingly swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, with more settlements in the West Bank and a more aggressive approach to dealing with Hamas, who stepped in to fill the void of violence on Jews after Yassir Arafat's PLO renounced their position on violence as part of the Accords.
While the film examines some of the missteps by the Shin Bet over the course of the decades since the 1967 Six Day War, there was one portion I would have liked to see a little more focus on, and that was the Rabin assassin, and possible Shin Bet notification would have prevented the assassination. However, that is a pleasant problem when watching The Gatekeepers; you want to see so much more than the time you have been given.
By all means, I certainly do not pretend to be an expert on the Middle East conflict; the feelings of tension and resentment have lingered long before I came to this place in life and will likely be here long after I leave. But each of the Shin Bet directors have spent at least twenty to twenty five years each within the Israeli government, and each appears to have a sense of remorse or even shame at some of the things they have done as Shin Bet leaders. They all seem to share the sentiment that when it comes to delivering a peaceful and secure Israel, that talks with Palestinians, or anyone for that matter, should be an option. They have a quieter shared sentiment: that no one, whether they are a Shin Bet director or a regular Israeli citizen, should go endure what they have.The Blu-ray:
Sony rolls The Gatekeepers out with an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 widescreen presentation, with the overall results being quite good. The film juggles the interview footage, news footage (both recent and in black and white covering the Six Day War), drone video and several other film sources quite nicely, with little in the way of DNR or image haloing to be concerned about. Image detail is about as good as one is liable to find in a documentary and there are not many instances of crushing or pixilation in darker moments that are not inherent in the source material. Sony has trotted out a better than expected Blu-ray in this area.Audio:
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround, which surprised me until I started listening to the sound and was convinced it was a solid choice. Dialogue was firm and consistent in the front of the soundstage at all times, and subwoofer engagement both in the score and in the explosions from news and video footage helped make for a convincing and immersive experience. And if that is something that Moreh was looking to do in the film, mission accomplished.Extras:
Moreh does a commentary for the film, which is the big extra of the bunch. He largely explains in slight larger detail what happened in the scene, and describes his intent for a scene, and provides additional historical context where needed. He points out any relevant CGI constructed scenes, and his thoughts on how the Shin Bet addressed security matters and their ways of getting intelligence. He does make the observation that what the Shin Bet had to do in the ‘90s the U.S. is doing now, vis a vis radical Islamic jihadists, which provides an intriguing wrinkle to thinks. He 300 Bus incident is reconstructed in superb detail and he talks about getting the relevant Shin Bet head to talk about it, which may be the crowning jewel of an otherwise average track. He also does a Q&A session (42:23) where he talks about his approach for this film, and talks about which films inspired him. He recounts the reaction from Israelis upon seeing the movie and his thoughts for what people, whether it is a normal moviegoer or a world leader, should talk from it. Between this and the commentary you do not see to see/listen to both, but if forced to pick one, I would say the Q&A was better. The trailer (2:03) completes things.Final Thoughts:
The Gatekeepers proves to be fascinating to watch as it gives us the stories of those who worked within a branch of Israel security force. It covers any successes and failures in frank manner, and while it does not claim to have a solution, one could easily find some things to take away from the film. Technically it is quite good for a documentary, and the bonus material is up to the task as well, and the film is absolutely worth the time to seek out and find.